Empathy Action Director Ben Solanky reflects on one of his recent trips to the Calais camp for refugees and migrants.
Walking through the camp this is what I am seeing: mud, ferociously wind-battered tents, weak wooden shelters covered in ground sheets, mud, a church constructed from pallets, plastic and tarpaulin, groups of people queuing outside a distribution centre with a sign declaring ‘everyone welcome’, people riding past on bicycles and more mud.
It has been a very rainy few weeks and today is no exception. It’s cold and wet and the camp resembles a muddy festival site but without the sense of fun.
‘This is not a refugee camp it’s a slum’, says Clare Moseley the founder of the volunteer based group Care4Calais.
Clare shares more about the ‘jungle’ camp in Calais with me and the three other Tunbridge Wells based volunteers. It covers 1.5 square miles, shes says, is built on a former landfill site and home to around 7000 people from over 7 different countries. Clare describes it as, ‘probably the most cosmopolitan place in the world!’
The other volunteers I have come with, Aaron, Alice and Sarah, have been coming each month since September with clothes, packs for women, essential supplies and a message: ‘we care’. This time we’re here to build a better understanding of what is needed and how best to mobilise the growing community of people back at home wanting to help.
Whilst changes are happening daily and weekly in the camp here there is still a distinct lack of overall responsibility for the situation. The problem is not just a local issue. It’s also a national one. A continental one. A global one.
The easiest response is to back away and say, ‘it’s someone else’s problem’, and then wait to see who does something.
As the debate goes on for solutions and problem solving it is everyday people like Clare, Aaron, Alice and Sarah who come to help. None of these people are from a big agency, nor do they come with powerful resources and expertise but each has a big heart with a strong message: ‘we care and we will not sit back and do nothing’.
Clare says to us, ‘the only chance we have is to change opinions… we need more empathy!”
During the afternoon the rain clears and the sun breaks through and as we leave, albeit briefly, a rainbow forms over the camp just before the clouds and rain return once more.
Please get in touch with Care4Calais if you are interested to volunteer with refugees.
At Empathy Action we would also love help as we develop a new interactive, educational simulation to encourage empathy and inspire compassionate action for the refugee crisis. Please get in touch if you are able to volunteer knowledge, time, or skills.